May 15, 2019

Alberta sisters participate in clinical trial to advance treatment options for rare genetic disorder

International Clinical Trials Day celebrations set for May 16 at Foothills campus
Clinical trial co-ordinator Jose Martinez is part of a team at the University of Calgary working to find a new treatment for facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder characterized by muscle weakness.

Clinical trial co-ordinator Jose Martinez is part of a team working to find a new treatment.

Kelly Johnston, Cumming School of Medicine

At a consultation with their neurologist, two members of an Alberta family affected by the genetic disorder facioscapulohumeral muscular systrophy (FSHD) learned about a clinical trial that tests a new leading edge treatment. Recognizing the importance of research to advance treatment, the two sisters, who have asked not to have their last name used, decided to participate in the clinical trial program.

“I was so excited, I jumped all over it,” says Lynn. “FSHD affects everything from daily activities, to work choices, marriage, planning a family, it is a huge part of who you are.”

FSHD is an inherited neuromuscular disorder that causes weakness of the muscles, most often, in the face, shoulder blades, and upper arms. It can progress to cause widespread muscle weakness, as well as loss of hearing. Currently, there is no standard of care treatment for this disease.

“I feel it is my responsibility to contribute as a patient to make progress possible,” says Heather.

Dr. Lawrence Korngut, MD, an associate professor in the departments of Clinical Neurosciences and Community Health Sciences and member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), is a global leader in researching new treatments for neuromuscular conditions. He and his team, clinical trial co-ordinators Janet Petrillo and Jose Martinez, were recognized as having the highest recruitment of participants worldwide to the FSHD clinical trial program, which was conducted at close to 20 sites in North America and Europe.

Bringing clinical trial opportunities to Calgary

“As a physician and researcher, I was very happy to be able to offer a cutting-edge treatment option to my patients,” says Korngut, who is also director of the Calgary ALS and Motor Neuron Disease Clinic. “We need advances in these rare diseases and our team is dedicated to bringing clinical trial opportunities to our Calgary patients.”

Both sisters appreciated the care they received throughout their clinical trial participation. “I was very impressed with how supportive the entire team was,” says Heather. “The appointments can take a lot of time, and the team worked hard to make it as easy as possible for me to participate; often, booking appointments around my work schedule.”

“It was a positive experience. The staff are wonderful people. Jose was incredible, he made me feel comfortable at all times,” says Lynn. “A big thank you to Dr. Korngut for making this possible.”

Due to the success of the trials Heather and Lynn participated in, an extension phase has now been offered that will allow them continued opportunities to participate in the studies.

Clinical trials are essential for developing new treatments and advancing medical knowledge, says Lawrence Korngut, principal investigator of the clinical trial the Alberta family is involved in.

Clinical trials help develop new treatments and advance medical knowledge, says Lawrence Korngut.

Bruce Perrault

Clinical trials underway are looking for participants

For those considering participation in a clinical trial, Heather has the following advice: “Talk to the team, if you have concerns or reservations, they are more than happy to inform you and answer your questions. There was no pressure, and I never felt that anyone would be disappointed if I had decided not to participate.”

To inquire about Dr. Korngut’s research program on neuromuscular disorders, contact Janet Petrillo at 403-210-7006 or email

The University of Calgary conducts approximately 500 clinical trials at any given time. Clinical trials that are open to recruitment and seeking participants can be viewed on the university’s Participate in Research portal. 

UCalgary celebrates International Clinical Trials Day May 16

To raise awareness about the importance of clinical research, International Clinical Trials Day is celebrated throughout the world this week to commemorate the first randomized clinical trial in 1747.

To mark the day, the University of Calgary Clinical, Health Services, and Population Health Research Strategy and the Alberta Strategy for Patient Orientated Research Support Unit are hosting the third Calgary Clinical Trial Market Day.

  • When: Thursday, May 16, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Where: Atrium of the Health Research Innovation Centre at the University of Calgary Foothills campus
  • Snacks and refreshments will be served

The event is open to anyone who wishes to learn more about clinical trials at the university or would like to connect with the services that support them.

Led by the HBI, Brain and Mental Health is one of six strategic research themes guiding the university towards its Eyes High goals. The strategy provides a unifying direction for brain and mental health research at the university and positions researchers to unlock new discoveries and treatments for brain health in our community.